Episode Title: The Perfect Crime
Season 09, Episode 29
Episode 219 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Original Airdate: Thursday, May 12th, 1988
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Paige and Sexy Michael find out that Johnny is working for Manny, and their friend Chavas is a DEA agent. They get on a bus. The Federales stop the bus and take Paige, Sexy Michael, and Chavas. Abby and Gary fill all the slips in the marina so that Manny can't dock his boat. Manny calls Karen and says she'd better do something about it if she wants Paige and Sexy Michael to return safely from Mexico. Jill, in disguise, surprises Val. She says the letters and calls from Ben were a hoax, and she had the forger write a suicide note for Val that says Val found out Ben is dead. Julie and Frank come to the door, and Val nervously says she has to stay home because Betsy's sick. Frank remarks to Pat that Val acted strangely, like she was being held at gunpoint. Jill forces Val to take sleeping pills saying if she doesn't, she'll shoot Val, and it's better if the twins find her asleep rather than with her brains splattered all over the room. Val pleads with her, and Jill says she's sick of everyone calling her "Poor Val" and as long as she's alive, Gary will always run to take care of her. Jill forces her to take more pills. David wakes up and Jill comes out of the shower saying she had a great night with him. Back home, Val's passed out on the floor with the phone off the hook in her hands.
And so here we are with The Perfect Crime, our final episode of season nine, an episode I’ve been very excited to discuss since, well, pretty much since the Pilot. I’ve always remembered this as one of the all time best eps and perhaps the very best cliffhanger of the series. How does it look upon a second viewing? Well, let’s explore and find out. Oh yeah, and also one quick thing. I have no idea why this particular blog entry has this annoying white color behind it; I tried to make it look nice and pretty and uniform the way all the other entries look and I couldn't do it. As far as I know, nobody else on planet earth is reviewing all 344 episodes of KL in excruciating detail, so if one of those episode entries has a weird white color going on, I guess we will all just have to deal with it. Anyway, let's start talking about The Perfect Crime.
When we last left off, Psycho Jill was sneaking quietly into Val’s house. As we get started with this ep, we get a fairly helpful little recap that lasts about two minutes, just kinda re-showing us the highlights from last ep. This kind of thing is annoying when you’re doing a marathon watch the way MBG and I like to do it, but I can see why it’s necessary upon original airdate. This ep is gonna continue from where we were with Psycho Jill’s perfect alibi, so it helps to see that alibi once again before we get to new footage. We also start with a stock shot of the Golden Gate Bridge that I’m pretty positive I’ve seen in other movies and shows. Also, we see a shot of a station wagon that looks just like The Family Truckster from Vacation (one of my favorite comedies). I’m utterly convinced of this; it has to be, because the Truckster even has the exact same color bags that the Griswold’s had strapped to their car (before all Hell broke loose, of course). In fact, I’m officially declaring that this is stock footage, because I have been obsessively going over the shot again and again, squinting my eyes really hard, and you can totally see the entire Griswold family in the car if you look really close. Now, I know stock Vacation footage was used in the opening credits of Married With Children, but I’ve never read about it being used on KL. Have I officially discovered something that nobody else has noticed? Am I that brilliant? In any case, this two second shot that comes and goes almost immediately has filled me with joy, because I’m absolutely positive we are seeing a smidge of Vacation here.
In any case, we move on from our quick little recap and get to Psycho Jill entering Val’s house. Val is still busy drying her hair with the leaf blower, and I again marvel at the fact that she just got the twins to bed and now she’s decided to unleash the leaf blower and possibly wake them up all over again. If this holds up, she’ll never get over to the Williams house for that movie, and what the hell time is it by now, anyway? It’s gotta be past midnight at this point, especially accounting for all the shit we’ve seen Psycho Jill do before arriving at the door. Does the Williams family really want to send Julie over to babysit at midnight and then watch a probably two hour movie with Val that will last until 2AM? Oh well, who cares about that, let’s instead focus on the fabulous Dutch angle used as Psycho Jill enters Val’s bedroom. I’m a big Dutch angle fan, but they have to be used sparingly in order to be most effective. Using it here is a fine choice, and one that I think Mr. Hitchcock himself would have approved of. Since this entire ep (and the last one) have a distinctly Hitchcock flavor, I like to think this is something of a tribute. Also, while giving this scene a rewatch to prepare for this essay, I got a distinctly Jonathan Demme whiff from the use of closeups and such. This would actually put the series ahead of its time, because I’m not so sure what Demme was up to in 1988 (I just looked and he was releasing Married to the Mob), but when I think of his most famous movies, The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, I think of his use of tight facial closeups in which the actor speaks directly to the camera. Everyone remembers Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling having their talks, and he uses the device there, in which Lecter looks directly at the camera and talks, and then we cut to Clarice doing the same. It’s a very effective technique (although I’d argue it doesn’t work as well in Philadelphia, which is, you know, an okay movie, but one that I have some major problems with) because we understand that the character is speaking to another character, but we also get the feel that the character is speaking directly to us. During this scene, we have Psycho Jill pointing the gun pretty much directly at the camera and talking directly at us. We know she’s talking to Val, but we also get this cool trippy feeling that she’s talking to us.
Anyway, as soon as Psycho Jill busts in, we viewers are all in for a fabulous, fabulous treat. At first Val doesn’t know who the hell she is, cuz she looks like a crazy woman with black hair wearing a hideously large pair of glasses and adorned in pink gloves (love those) and pointing a gun at her. As soon as Psycho Jill is like, “Shut up,” Val realizes who she is, but she still can’t figure out what she’s doing here. I love Psycho Jill’s immediate vitriol towards Val, how she’s just like, “You really can’t figure out what I’m doing here? Well, try. What would Miss Psycho Jill be doing in your house, in your bedroom, in a funny wig, late at night, pointing a gun at you?” What follows is a very long sequence in which we stay with Val and Psycho Jill for a good long time. In fact, I worked out the time and Psycho Jill enters the house at the four minute mark and we don’t cut away from the two of them until the 22:30 mark. So that’s about eighteen straight minutes of Val and Psycho Jill, and I like it that way. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and argue that we never should have cut away from the two of them. At some point, I am going to have to talk about the twin snooze storylines of Manny Vasquez and Mexico, because those are plots that take up time in this ep. But Heavens to Betsy, how much better this ep would be if we just stuck to Val and Psycho Jill for 48 minutes; I would have really loved that.
I don’t even know how much I need to describe this scene. I think any KL fan should remember it vividly, right down to the small details. Ever since seeing it, this sequence has burned itself into my memory and is one of the first things I think about when I think about the grand fourteen year KL experience. Basically, Psycho Jill keeps Val held at gunpoint and announces her plan to force Val to kill herself by swallowing those sleeping pills. We get some dialogue back and forth about how the twins are still asleep, and at first Psycho Jill doesn’t believe Val and Bob Loblaw, but let’s instead focus on Psycho Jill’s tremendous speech to Val. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the famous Poor Val Speech. Oh, how I love the Poor Val Speech. In fact, since I can’t possibly do justice to it by trying to remember what Psycho Jill says and how she says it, let’s just transcribe the entire speech down so everyone can study its brilliance. Basically, the speech comes after Psycho Jill has described her epic evil plan to Val, how she’s got the gun and she bought it in Val’s name and it will have her prints all over it, all that good shit. Then Val asks, “Why?” and that is when the speech begins.
“Why? Why? What a stupid question. You must know why. You can’t not know how you get under people’s skin. You’re under Gary’s skin, and as long as you’re around, as long as you’re alive, Gary’s gonna think about you and worry about you and feel protective. That’s your gift, such as it is. You have the gift of making people, especially Gary, but not only Gary, say, ‘Poor Val. Poor Val isn’t responsible for the way she feels, or the way she acts, or the way she is. You can’t blame Poor Val because she’s Poor Val. She can’t help being just a little bit crazy.’ Well, you get enough people saying that and pretty soon they forget that Poor Val takes advantage of their pity, how Poor Val’s as self-centered as they come, how Poor Val needs them to keep saying ‘Poor Val’ because it’s her excuse to be a child and it absolves her of her absolute selfishness. POOR VAL!”
Ah yes, so very much to say about this glorious speech. This speech is up there with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” except it’s obviously better. Again, let me throw in the caveat that I love Val and always have and always will and that I believe the journey of Gary and Val is the very heart and soul of the KL experience. However, there is a certain relish I get out of this speech and the wonderful writing and the fabulous performance of the majestic Teri Austin. Also, I didn’t even have to check to know that either Latham or Lechowick wrote this ep (it was Lechowick). I’ve read that they hated the Val character and I’ve read how J.V.A. didn’t care for their hatred and felt it effected Val’s character. But there is some truth to what Psycho Jill says, and maybe that’s why the speech is so good. Yes, every single character on the show goes through an inordinate amount of drama, much more drama than most normal people who live on a cul-de-sac experience. Even so, some of the characters are able to handle their drama in a different way, and there definitely is something about Poor Val that can grate. I can’t quite put my finger on it and I can’t quite explain it while also maintaining that I love the character. It’s a balancing act; I love both Val and I really love Psycho Jill. She is so entertaining and so clever and so funny and I just love everything about her. The writers have done the clever thing where our sympathies lie with Val, but as we listen to Psycho Jill and as we watch her enact her master plan, we are kinda rooting for her and we are kinda hoping she will succeed. Another glorious thing about the Poor Val Speech is that it retroactively provides something to bring us all great enjoyment throughout the previous 218 eps. Many times over the course of this marathon, when something or other is happening to Val, MBG would say, “Poor Val,” and I would just smile and have to bite my tongue to not immediately scream, “POOR VAL! POOR VAL!” This glorious scene means you can go back over every episode from beforehand and insert “POOR VAL!” at any given opportunity. When Val catches Gary cheating on her with Judy Trent? “POOR VAL!” When Val gets possessed by the creepy-ass triplets in The Three Sisters and almost jumps off the roof and kills herself? “POOR VAL!” When Val catches Gary and Abs in bed for the first time and storms out of the cul-de-sac? “POOR VAL!” When Val wakes up and is told her twins were born dead? “POOR VAL!” When Ben ran off on her to go to South America or wherever the hell he went? “POOR VAL!” It works consistently and brilliantly and that’s why I love it so very much.
I also love this scene because of the way they keep the suspense ramped up. See, just as Psycho Jill is about ready to make Val swallow the pills, there’s a knock on the door and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the Williams family (just Frank and Julie), wanting to see if Val’s still up for that midnight movie and eager to have Julie babysit the twins all the way until two or three in the morning or whatever the hell ungodly hour this is. Great scene in all regards, because we get Psycho Jill lurking behind the door while holding a gun to Val’s head, and then we get Val’s strange behavior towards Frank and Julie. They can tell something’s wrong from the way she is behaving, but since we’ve also just heard the brilliant Poor Val Speech, we can also imagine that perhaps Frank is just thinking, “Damn, that bitch is crazy.” After all, she’s done plenty of things in the past that could be construed as a trifle nutty. Anyway, the phone starts ringing and Val is like, “I gotta get that,” so she closes the door on Frank and Julie and is alone once again with Psycho Jill. In an example of terrible timing, the caller is Gary and he leaves a message for Val saying how, “If you’ve got the machine on, I guess you’re asleep, so I won’t come by,” the exact wrong words to say when Psycho Jill is listening. Psycho Jill already believes that Gary is mounting Val nightly and I imagine she thinks this little phone message is just further evidence of their shagging. Also, for all the joy we viewers get out of the Poor Val Speech, how can one’s heart not go out to Val when Gary says, “Goodbye” on the machine and then Val slouches down against the door and sorta moans, “Goodbye, Gary.” I am pretty easy to make cry, and I confess a few tears squirted out at “Goodbye, Gary.” I just think about how Val really believes she is going to die and she really believes she will never see Gary again and, no matter what the two characters may have done in the past, we all know that they are soul mates and they are meant to be together. No man has ever meant as much to Val as Gary, and as she says, “Goodbye, Gary,” we really know that she believes she’s never going to see him again.
We cut away from Val and Psycho Jill for a few minutes, but when we return, it really does look like Psycho Jill’s plan has worked. Val is laid out on the bed, Psycho Jill checks her pulse, Val remains motionless, and then Psycho Jill sneaks out of the room, but not before pausing to deliver another brilliant line, “I’ve been trying to feel sorry for you, Val, but I don’t.” Ugh, yes, I love the mix of tragedy and comedy here. If Psycho Jill succeeds in her plan, it will be a tragedy. She will have murdered a woman who is a mother to two little babies and one daughter we never see and never speak of anymore, plus she has friends and other family like, um, Lilimae (wherever the hell she is now). However, I still laughed aloud (as did MBG and Brother) at this fantastic line, and then the ep continues that device that I love so much in which we follow along with Psycho Jill as she tries to get her ass back to San Francisco for the final part of her perfect alibi. We get more Hitchcockian suspense as she arrives at the airport only to find that all flights to San Francisco have been cancelled. This was extra awesome because, in our previous ep, we were talking about San Francisco and MBG was like, “It’s a great city, but it’s impossible to fly there because they’re always cancelling flights due to weather,” and then we hop into this ep and this happens. If I was watching this alone, I just might think that this device is a smidge convenient, but it seemed totally realistic after MBG made that comment last ep. Anyway, we cut to Psycho Jill in a rental car, driving frantically back. If the ep was a smidge longer (or didn’t spend too much time devoted to stupid other storylines), it might have been a nice little extra layer of suspense for her to get pulled over by a cop for speeding and have to charm her way out of a ticket. In any case, she does make it back to San Francisco in time for Moustache to wake up and see her coming out of the bathroom, at which point she declares, “After last night, you deserve to be tired.” Ugh, it’s just all so good. Every single thing about Val and Psycho Jill and the evil plan is just perfect, some seriously A+ material.
Unfortunately, the other storylines are absolutely not A+ material. If I had to grade both the Manny Vasquez story and the Mexico story, I think I’d go with a C-. I pick that grade because none of these stories are, you know, wretched the way that the bad storylines on Dallas were by this point, but they’re both super boring. I would give the bad Dallas storylines an F, but these are C- because, even though they suck, they’re not as totally stupid as over on the parent series. Anyway, let’s talk about these stories because we have no other choice; they are presented in front of us and we must talk about them. However, let me just say that it’s a horrible, horrible mistake to cut away from Val and Psycho Jill at all and return us to these Valium plots. Everything about that story is just pounding with excitement, and we also get to linger on it until, as I said, about the 23 minute mark, so then when we cut back to Mexico and the flaming car that nobody could care about, it’s like, “Oh yeah, this stuff is still going on.” Anyway, since it’s boring, I’ll just zoom right through it. By the end of the ep, Paige and Sexy Michael are on a bus and Johnny is, like, kidnapped or something. I remember him being tied up and lying on the ground, but I can’t quite remember how he got there and I also don’t care. So anyway, Paige and Sexy Michael are on this bus, hoping to get back to California, but then the police (Federales) come onto the bus and take them away, meaning we are going to have to spend even more time over in this storyline when we begin season ten. That is very unfortunate; if the writers simply had to put this Mexico story into this ep, they could have at least done us the good of wrapping it up so it won’t infect and bore us all in the fall of 1988, but no, they couldn’t even do that. I have no idea how much longer this shit goes on, but if it’s not wrapped up good and quick by the opening hours of season ten, I am definitely gonna throw some feces.
Speaking of feces, I think the Manny Vasquez storyline might be coming to some sort of a climax, although maybe I’m wrong cuz I also think it intersects with the Mexico stuff. Basically, we have a lot of boring footage of Karen and Mack fretting and talking about Manny and drugs and just generally overacting. Remembering that I love both of these characters and both of these actors, but let me just take a minute to shit all over their acting right now. What the hell happened? Both Michele and The Dobsonator are giving some of their worst performances ever at this point, as if they both decided that just screaming a lot is how you win your Emmy. I kinda imagine Michele taking The Dobsonator aside and being like, “I find that I give my best performances when I do seven shots of espresso and then take a long jog right before we roll cameras; then I’m really cooking!” They’re both really terrible here and it’s the thing where, if someone wandered in while I was watching this and they knew how much I loved the show and the characters, they’d be like, “Seriously, this?” and I would have to be like, “No, it’s usually brilliant, I swear! Read my blog!” Anyway, what happens with Manny is that the characters cook up a little plan to fill the harbor with a bunch of other boats so that his coke boat can’t dock, and Manny is damn mad. He throws some threat at Karen about how he’d better be able to get his coke boats into this harbor or else Paige and Sexy Michael will never be able to get out of Mexico alive. Nobody cares about this, so let’s move on. I'll throw in a picture of Sexy Michael shirtless so we can all at least find something worthwhile within all of this, although once again this is just a random picture I found and has nothing to do with this particular episode.
How was the ep? Well, I spent so much time writing about the great parts and so little time writing about the bad parts that my final analysis may seem slightly askew. Basically, while I remembered this as one of the all time best season finales, it actually isn’t, but the thing is that it could have been. Again, if the writers and powers-that-be had been smart enough to just filter out all the boring stuff and make this a 48 minute ep all about Val and Psycho Jill, it would be perfect; it would be one of the best eps ever made. However, that Mexico stuff and that Manny stuff is really boring, and it’s just toxic whenever we cut away from the brilliant storyline to the bores. To continue with my current obsession with letter grades, my memories of this ep was that it was A+ all the way, but due to the boring stuff, I’m gonna say it’s a……let's say a B. I almost gave it a B+ but then I seriously thought about my lack of interest in the other two stories and I think a B grade is the most appropriate. B is good; it means you passed the class, it means you’ve got talent, it means you got nothing to worry about it, but it also means that, with a smidge more effort, you could really show your talents off better. However, I do wanna say that the very cliffhanger, the final image in which the camera pans over the bed to show Val lying on the floor with the open phone sprawled out before her, this is still my favorite cliffhanger. What I mean by that is that the very image, the very ending, just the cliffhanger isolated unto itself, remains my very favorite. When you really look at things with an objective lens, seasons four, five, and six all had better cliffhangers cuz the seasons were so well made and had been building to those endings all along. However, taking this one simply as it is, as the very final image of the season, it’s still my favorite. Also, and I hate to be a glass-half-empty kinda guy, but I’m gonna say this will probably be our last great cliffhanger. The honest truth is I’m thinking over the next five years and I can’t really remember what the individual cliffhangers are. I know they will never reach this level of excitement and brilliance again.
Anyway, that’s The Perfect Crime. I’m eager to move us along to season ten, but first we’ve gotta talk about season nine as a whole, so stay tuned for my Reflection on Season Nine. After that, we’ll power into season ten with Suicidal.